Smithsonian Institution MCI 

Stable Isotope Mass Spectrometry Facility

Oracle Instrument 2

Facilities                     Publications                     News                    Sample Submission                    Links


During the past twenty years, the development and widespread proliferation of modern mass spectrometers has made the task of measuring the masses and relative concentrations of atoms and molecules at high precision (from both organic and inorganic compounds) a reality at most major research institutions throughout the United States. The availability of modern mass spectrometers offers researchers access to a wealth of new scientific knowledge, with much of it based on subtle variations in composition caused by physical and chemical mechanisms in nature. In recognition of this need, the Smithsonian Institutionís Office of the Undersecretary for Science (OUSS), in collaboration with the Museum Conservation Institute, formed a Mass Spectrometry Advisory Panel tasked with the goal of identification, acquisition, and development of scientific instrumentation that will meet the research requirements of the broadest segment of SI researchers and their visiting students.

In early discussions with OUSS, MCI, and the Advisory Panel, it was recognized that the most critical and immediate need was a pan-institutional laboratory capable of high-precision measurements of isotopes of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, and sulfur (C, N, O, H, S). These elements naturally occur as two or more stable (non-radioactive) isotopes. Isotopic variations arising from mass-dependent isotopic fractionation in organic and inorganic substances can be used to trace the pathways and forms that these key elements take as they are transferred and cycled within biological and geochemical systems. Measurements of stable isotope ratios in soils and plant samples are used to reconstruct past climates and vegetation, evaluate physiological responses of wild and domesticated plants (and animals), characterize energy and material transfers and transformations among plant, animal, and microbial components of ecosystems, and understand atmosphere-biosphere interactions. Stable isotopes record information on biological and physical processes operating across space and time, and thus are useful in integrative studies that span disciplines and levels of biological organization. Rapid and precise stable isotope analysis of solid, liquid, and gaseous materials are fundamental to studies in physiology, ecology, hydrology, earth and atmospheric sciences, archaeology, art history, and conservation.

Funding to support this initiative was obtained via FY 2007 year-end funding and MCI, with support from OUSS, took the lead in setting set up a central laboratory with two stable isotope ratio mass spectrometers and associated peripherals. A contractor was hired in May 2008 to oversee the installation and operation of the instruments. Both instruments were installed in June 2008. A full time scientist was subsequently hired by MCI in November 2008 to oversee day-to-day operation of the laboratory.


For further information regarding the Smithsonian Institution MCI  Stable Isotope Mass Spectrometry Facility please contact Christine France.

Shipping Address - 4210 Silver Hill Road, Suitland, Maryland 20746                                            Laboratory Phone - 301.238.1262

Smithsonian Sunburst Logo